The Boys Are Back
Kane and Lynch are the eponymous pair of the sequel to the 2007 3rd person, cover based shooter about a sociopath and a psychopath bringing gunfire and chaos wherever they go. This time the action moves to Shanghai and with it, one of the most interesting choices in art direction seen in this entire generation of games. But art direction can only go so far, and while it creates a palpable, more engaging environment, it is undermined by some problematic game design.
Welcome To Shanghai
The sequel puts players in the shoes of Lynch, the psychopath. He’s settled down in Shanghai, shacked up with a nice local girl, and seems to have life under some semblance of control with the local underworld. Then Kane shows up, ostensibly brokering some kind of shady job, and things quickly go downhill as the pair screw up a routine “disciplinary measure” that has the entire Chinese mob gunning for them. Narratively, there’s little to care about here, as the game frequently cuts out any meaningful character development in favour of the simple anxiety of two criminals on the run. Both of them are still largely unsympathetic, although it seems like the game has put more emphasis on making Lynch, the main character as unappealing as possible. There are no twists or turns in the story, no development to make the characters interesting, and the conclusion ends on a ludicrous note that I won’t go into detail about here.
On the other hand, the art direction for the game is bold, risky, and for the most part it works. Forgoing the usual glossy, cinematic look, Kane & Lynch 2 goes for a hand-held documentary feel, with artificial compression artifacts, blown out lighting, even digital mosaics super-imposed over nudity and gore, such as headshots. The “doco feel” is unique and well executed, giving even more authenticity to the impressive efforts that have gone into creating Shanghai itself. It’s obvious Io Interactive had art teams that spent a lot of time Asia as they get little details right, such as the seedy look of a street hawker center, or mess of cables and air conditioner units that line the building exteriors.
The audio also makes the bold choice of forgoing music entirely, relying only on voice acting and ambient environmental noise to create the soundscape. It adds to the doco/user-generated content feel of the game, and for the most part, it works. Mandarin Chinese abounds in NPC dialog, and the performances of Kane and Lynch themselves, while minimal, are functional. The weapons are nicely represented in the audio as well, bringing a punch that makes the average living room sound like a warzone if the volume isn’t monitored. All in all, an impressive package in terms of presentation.
Come For The Shooting Gallery, Stay For The Multi-Player
It’s unfortunate, but the weakest link of Kane & Lynch is the foundation, the campaign experience. It’s available in three flavours, single player, local co-op and online co-op. It quickly becomes obvious that the game is not well suited to sustained play. The biggest culprit is the lack of variety in activities. There are plenty of 3rd person, cover based shooters now, from Gears of War to Uncharted and they provide great examples of varied gameplay, whether it’s the platforming of Uncharted to the switching up of tactics in Gears when boss characters show up. Kane & Lynch has none of that, funnelling players from one arena to another to take cover, shoot, rinse and repeat. Outside of one vehicular, on-rails sequence, the rest of the game relies entirely on the same mechanic, with the only variation coming from the layout of the levels themselves. The weapons too lack that uniqueness and distinction that other games have, and are more or less disposable, although this could be argued that it also means they are balanced with no obvious advantages outside of shotguns versus rifles. The enemies you encounter boil down to three varieties, thugs, police and paramilitary forces. There are no bosses, and even the lowliest of these enemies has an amazing “bullet sponge” capacity, able to soak up hits—and get right back on their feet momentarily—that could only be explained by having Kryptonian parents. On the other hand, the controls are phenomenal, feeling tight, fast and responsive. They work well with the game, and make the otherwise mundane level design more palatable to navigate.
The game is also buggy. The Xbox 360 version slowly “degrades” as time goes by, with the game eventually freezing for up to five seconds at a time after every shot of a gun before it resumes action. On the PS3 version, local co-op is prone to freezes at regular intervals, necessitating a complete reboot of the console. These are large, obvious bugs that should not have gotten through their Quality Assurance testing and yet here they are in a full-retail copy.
For all of its flaws though, Kane & Lynch 2 manages to deliver in the multi-player department. This is where the game manages to get its legs. The Fragile Alliance mode is back, opening up the possibility for betrayal amongst players that lends the sessions an air of tension and outright paranoia just not present in other games. This is also supplemented by a similar mode called “Undercover Cop” that randomly assigns one person to be said cop, tasked with trying to shoot—and loot—the other players and prevent the crime from occurring. There’s also traditional team based game-play in the form of Cops & Robbers, but it lacks that same visceral tension as the other modes. There is a built-in excitement that comes from knowing at any second someone on the team could turn on you. It’s a brilliantly executed form of officially sanctioned griefing that adds unpredictability to every round. The only real weakness in the multi-player right now is a small number of maps, meaning it easy to learn general strategies quickly. People will quickly begin to realize which parts are best for an ambush from a traitor, sucking out some of the dynamism from the sessions.
In the end, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a strong multi-player game wrapped around a problematic campaign. There’s a lot to like about the online experience, but a mediocre campaign hurts the chances of this game building up a decent community. It doesn’t achieve its lofty goal of telling a compelling, gritty, crime story, and is saddled with some unacceptable bugs, but this is offset by a compelling multi-player experience that really shines.